The president of the Chechen Republic has been a controversial figure, both in his own country and as a foil to Vladimir Putin’s international strategy. His activity in Chechen politics has spanned the crucial period from the 90s to now, during Russia’s changing global persona.
Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov was born on October 5, 1976 in the village of Tsentoroi, in the now-Chechen Republic, then under the USSR. His father was a politically-engaged imam who he looked up to, striving to support his father’s political stance. The Kadyrov family were resistant to Russia during the First Chechen War (1994-1996), supporting the call for jihad against Russia, then switching to a pro-Russian stance during the Second Chechen War (1999-2000).
Ramzan’s father was acting Head of the Chechen Republic from the end of the Second Chechen War until his appointment as President of the Chechen Republic in 2003. Seven months later he was assassinated and Ramzan, who had led his father’s militia since the Second Chechen War, was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic.
Upon taking office Kadyrov began articulating both a firm hand against opposition elements in Chechnya, and a triumphalist future for the country. Kadyrov was made caretaker Prime Minister after a car accident in November 2005, in which Chechnya’s prime minister Sergey Abramov was injured. He immediately banned alcohol and gambling in adherence with Sharia law.
From then until 2007 Kadyrov engaged in a populist ego-and-profile PR campaign, building a huge palace, forcing women to wear headscarves and shutting down refugee camps. Calls mounted from supporters to oust the then-president, Alu Alkhanov, and have him replaced with Kadyrov. On 15 February 2007, Putin signed an order removing Alkhanov and installing Kadyrov as Chechen’s acting president.
Since his ascent to power Kadyrov has focused on suppressing rebel forces and economic growth, both of which he claims progress on, though the list of people he is accused of having killed is one which includes journalists, political opponents and rights activists. It is often noted that the development of Chechen republic, Grozny, has been so successful it is almost unrecognisable compared to the state it existed in during the two wars of the 90s.
The relationship between Putin and Kadyrov remains tight, which may be the cause of the multiple assassination attempts on Kadyrov. Nevertheless, during the 2012 election Putin won 48% of the vote countrywide, but in Chechnya he won 611,578 of the 612,194 available votes.
Kadyrov has become quite the social media star, and often keeps his millions of followers up to date on his views on sports and Islam – though he most passionately he talks about Putin and the West. But the human rights abuses he is accused of and the sometimes fierce conservative rhetoric he uses are what may have led him being blocked on both Instagram and Facebook in December 2017.
Lately, Kadyrov has been accused of overseeing the rounding up and torture of gay people, which he has dismissed as “nonsense” – even going as far as to say that there is no LGBT community in Chechnya so it would be impossible for him to violate their human rights.
Although in March 2016 Putin reaffirmed his support for the Chechen leader, Kadyrov himself has more recently spoken of stepping down. Telling Rossiya 1, a nationwide channel: “Once there was a need for people like me to fight, to put things in order. Now we have order and prosperity… and time has come for changes in the Chechen Republic.”